Drought? Earthquake? Blame the Three-Gorges Dam

Adam Minter of Shanghai Scrap launches his new column at Bloomberg—which “will focus on Chinese opinion flow on a different issue each week”—with a look at a range of perspectives on the Three Gorges Dam. The ever-controversial dam has attracted fresh suspicion as severe droughts drag on downstream.

One opinion that’s been resurrected in the midst of the dam debate is its supposed me role in triggering 2008’s devastating Wenchuan earthquake – and that quake had some connection to a previous drought. Journalist Zhao Shilong, opining on the Sina microblog, joined other microbloggers in making this explicit connection: “There are certain connections between the drought and earthquakes. Three years after the southwest drought, the … Wenchuan Earthquake occurred. This year there is a drought in the middle and lower reaches of Yangtze River … It is very strange! We should beware of it.” […]

Meanwhile, in the absence of hard (public) evidence that the Dam caused the increasingly serious drought, the state media is on a bit of an offensive. On Wednesday, Xinhua, the state-owned news service, was peddling a story headlined (on its English site): “No evidence that dam causes drought: experts.” And on Thursday the campaign culminated with a new headline: “Three gorges help fight drought.”

In any case, early in the week, and in some quarters, the conversation had expanded into an ostensibly more answerable — and far more sensitive — question: how on earth did the Three Gorges Dam get approved in the first place? An unsigned editorial in the Western China City Daily, a large circulation paper based in Chengdu, Sichuan Province, far from Beijing, noted tartly: “Originally, the project was promoted by the government, investigated by a group of experts, and voted on by the National People’s Congress. Common people, even some experts, could hardly get the opportunity to participate in the process. But the construction of the project swallowed up both the inside and the outside of the reservoir and its adverse effects have also spread through different kinds of channels. Finally, we’re all involved.”